I read this book so long ago (was it actually 2005...good lord) that I can't say much about it. I remember being pretty moved by it, and that it changI read this book so long ago (was it actually 2005...good lord) that I can't say much about it. I remember being pretty moved by it, and that it changed my mind about the Clinton presidency. Highly recommended for those interested in foreign relations, human history, and the immense suffering we seem determined to inflict on each other....more
A masterpiece and a tour de force of pacing and point of view. What separates Le Carre from his competitors is the depth of humanity he gives his charA masterpiece and a tour de force of pacing and point of view. What separates Le Carre from his competitors is the depth of humanity he gives his characters. He's so in tune with human nature--the things that drive us and make us who we are--and it shines through in all his people, but most of all in Smiley, of course.
If something stands out from this book, its the restraint that Le Carre shows. After all, this is really the culmination of all of Smiley's efforts against Karla, the end of a long and painful war. And yet, in key moments, its not Smiley we're with but Esterhase or Guillam or even Mendel, who doesn't really factor into the action here at all. And when the key moments come, Le Carre draws them out masterfully.
I would say that you could read this book without having first read Tinker Tailor, but I think having read that book informed so much about the background here that just the mention of Bill Haydon was sufficient to cast a certain tone over a scene. At any rate, its really a moot point, as you should read both books. To be honest, I couldn't decide which is better, though I enjoyed reading this much more than Tinker Tailor.
To close, a favorite passage, from the last third of the book:
Mendel, a loping, dourly observant man with a taste for keeping bees, said outright that George was pacing himself before his big fight. Mendel had been in the amateur ring in his time, he had boxed middleweight for the Division, and he claimed to recognise the eve-of-match signs: a sobriety, a clarifying loneliness, and what he called a staring sort of look, which showed that Smiley was "thinking about his hands."...more
The novelist John Gardner put forth the notion that fiction should "evoke a vivid and continuous dream." In other words, it should immerse the readerThe novelist John Gardner put forth the notion that fiction should "evoke a vivid and continuous dream." In other words, it should immerse the reader in a world that feels alive, from the beginning of the book to the end. Creating this universe -- be it one that looks and feels like our own or a totally different time and place -- is the challenge of the novelist.
I thought about this notion of the vivid and continuous dream while reading Philip Caputo's Crossers. I'd never read Caputo, never even heard of him, actually, until a family friend recommended him to me and loaned me his copy of the book. "This guy, he knew what was going on down there before anybody," my friend said. The "down there" he was speaking of is the Mexican border, and in that sense, I think he was right.
The book follows Castle, a minor titan of Wall Street who loses his wife in the 9/11 terror attacks. Grief-stricken and broken, he decides to retire from his career in finance and retreat, literally, to the Arizona desert, taking up residence in an old cabin on the outskirts of his cousin's cattle ranch. There he discovers that the desert is a perilous place, overrun with undocumented immigrants making an often deadly dash across the arid landscape and lethal smugglers toting bales of marijuana on their backs. It's a world where minding your own business is a way of life, and riding into the wrong canyon can spell disaster.
Castle's attempts to seclude himself are thwarted first by a comely female rancher, Tessa, and then by the inescapable blight of the drug trade, which finds its way into the business of his cousin Blaine's cattle ranch. Weaving the stories of several characters -- Castle, Blaine, their grandfather Ben Erskine (The last of the great Western cowboys), a double-agent called, enigmatically, The Professor, and the ruthless and erratic druglord Yvonne Menendez -- Caputo creates a compelling portrait of life along the border.
Caputo's knowledge of the Arizona-Sonora desert, the ins-and-outs of the drug trade along its border, and the incredible details of ranch life and the lifestyle of the working cowboys or vaqueros, as they are called throughout, is beyond impressive. Following the rich cast of characters -- the thoughtful widower Castle, the man of intrigue "The Professor," the hothead Blaine -- was a delight. To be pulled along, through the dream -- or more accurately, the nightmare -- of this book, as it slowly unfolded was a pleasure.
If I have a criticism of the book, it's that Caputo's authority is so great when he's operating in an area of expertise, such as cattle ranching, that when he ventures out of what he seems to know, he sometimes strikes a false note. One such example is a description of the crowd at an alt-country show on a college campus. He describes the students as wearing the sweatshirts of the university they attend. This detail -- minor, to be sure -- struck me as incredibly false. At times, the book's one true villain, Yvonne Menendez, felt a little too broadly drawn, that she drifted into caricature. Caputo does a great job of making most of the characters morally ambiguous, and while he does his best to show Yvonne's motives, deeply rooted in history as they are, it came up just short of the kind of nuanced detail that I would wanted. In short, I was hoping for "The Wire" of the Mexican drug trade, and it didn't quite hit that lofty mark.
And in a book of such impeccable detail -- the descriptions of the mesas and canyons of the desert, of the birds and beasts who inhabit it are so obviously from life -- that these brief moments of unreality had the jarring effect of breaking the dream of the narrative, of ripping me out of the world and making me think about the author. And that was a shame.
Thankfully, those sour notes were few and far between, and the plot is so compelling and so well-paced, that I can recommend this book without reservation. To live there, in the foothills of the Huachuca Mountains, for a few weeks, was a true pleasure, and a terrific way to begin the year as a reader. ...more
Have to pause this one, as Google books is being kind of jenky and not letting me come back to the same place in the text. Which, surprise surprise, mHave to pause this one, as Google books is being kind of jenky and not letting me come back to the same place in the text. Which, surprise surprise, makes it kind of hard to read. Too bad, too, as I was enjoying it....more
Some time ago, somebody caused a ruckus on the internet by asserting that, generally speaking, women aren't funny. That this actually caused a controvSome time ago, somebody caused a ruckus on the internet by asserting that, generally speaking, women aren't funny. That this actually caused a controversy of sorts is ridiculous to me. Of course women are funny. Anybody who disagrees hasn't read Julie Klam, Julie Klausner, Sarah Vowell...And they clearly haven't read Rachel Shukert.
This book, following the young Shukert on various European excursions and adventures, is as funny and knowing as any book I've read this. After college, Shukert gets a job as a sort of glorified extra in an experimental play. When the play ends its run in New York, the terrifying and maniacal director takes the show on a brief European tour, from Vienna to Zurich. Shukert has the usual European experiences -- having sex with an older man with an uncircumcised penis, being not-so-silently judged by the snooty Austrian hotel clerk, eating scalding sausages in the company of skinheads -- and some not so usual ones.
At the end of her tour, with few job prospects on the horizon, Shukert takes advantage of a bureaucratic error to stay in Europe indefinitely. She moves to Amsterdam to live with some friends. And that's where the book really gets good. Dental emergencies lead to near-sexual assaults, stolen bicycles bring about horrible karmic payback. Etc, etc.
Not only is this a hilarious and fast read, I really feel like it speaks to issues of class in America in some very subtle ways. With a certain retrospective gaze, Shukert notes that "finding oneself" is a luxury of a certain class of person, that she is privileged to get to traipse about Europe, even when that traipsing is unpleasant or downright horrible. And Shukert's Jewishness lends another layer to the text, positioning her as something of an "other" even in her ancestral homeland of Omaha, Nebraska.
But what I'll remember about this book is not Shukert's ethnicity, but rather how damn funny it is. Sometimes you just need a good laugh, and Shukert, it seems, is willing to be both laughed at and laughed with. She's a good sport, and in that sense, I think Everything is Going to Be Great fits nicely into the genre of "loser fic," even if it isn't fiction (Hopefully Rachel knows I mean this as a complement!).
If the entire book had been the first and the last sections, this would've been 5-stars, hands down. Unfortunately, while I appreciate why the middleIf the entire book had been the first and the last sections, this would've been 5-stars, hands down. Unfortunately, while I appreciate why the middle book needed to be there (and I find myself lingering, in thought, over that section more than any other), I just couldn't stand that gruesome ugly desert of death. I don't think this book is quite a masterpiece -- too messy, too all over the place. But it has its masterful moments. Eventually, I will get to Savage Detectives....more
What to say about this book? It's one of the five best books I've ever read, and I think I've only met one person who considers it anything less thanWhat to say about this book? It's one of the five best books I've ever read, and I think I've only met one person who considers it anything less than one of the best books of the 20th Century. Is that enough to recommend it to you?
I also wrote about this book for The Millions last year. Everything I said then still stands. I can't wait to re-read this....more
While nowhere near as good as Williams's transcendent Stoner, Butcher's Crossing is a fairly riveting story of one man's journey into the West. Will AWhile nowhere near as good as Williams's transcendent Stoner, Butcher's Crossing is a fairly riveting story of one man's journey into the West. Will Andrews, Harvard dropout, travels to the dusty Kansas town of Butcher's Crossing in search of his true self, which he'd previously only found in the woods around Cambridge. In Butcher's Crossing, he seeks out an acquaintance of his father's, McDonald, who runs a trading company, buying and selling buffalo hides. McDonald can tell that Andrews has come to Butcher's Crossing for something other than a business opportunity -- he wants to go out on a hunt -- so he recommends that he talk to a man named Miller. Miller has an idea for a hunt that will put all other hunts to shame. He wants to make an expedition deep into the Colorado Territory, where he once discovered a hidden valley filled with thousands upon thousands of buffalo. After remarkably little consideration, Andrews agrees to fund the expedition and travel along as a skinner.
The book is full of rich, evocative descriptions of rolling plains, rocky mountains, intense heat and bitter, horrible cold. It's also rife with scenes of slaughter and, yes, butchering. You can practically smell the entrails steaming in the summer sun. With relatively sparse dialog, Williams manages to create several very vivid characters, including the bumbling, haunted Charley Hoge, my favorite in the book.
I rarely read Westerns (Might this be my first? I think it is.), so I can't comment on how this either conforms to or deviates from the conventions of the genre. I found the descriptions of how the men lived, of how they survived without all that I enjoy in my daily life (like plumbing and a bed), to be fascinating. And the story -- a lassic quest, really -- offered plenty of action. Indeed, there's a sequence that's as tense and pact with danger as the movie Wages of Fear.
In the end, I found the philosophy of the book to be somewhat opaque, and it's for this that I'm giving the book three stars. If you are looking for a great Western, you'll definitely find it in Butcher's Crossing. But if you want to read Williams at his best, I recommend Stoner instead....more